Council and Kelly clash over funding cut College board chairman bemoans long-term effect of 1996 budget reduction

March 12, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

An otherwise friendly lunchtime chat between the Baltimore County Council and feisty new community college board Chairman Francis X. Kelly erupted into very plain talk about college budget cuts yesterday.

Kelly and interim chancellor Harold D. McAnnich argued that the council's $2.3 million reduction in the community college system's budget request in May translated into a multimillion-dollar, long-term loss because of state funding formulas.

But Kevin Kamenetz, the Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who was council chairman last year when the cut was made, disagreed.

"That's a bunch of bull," Kamenetz told Kelly during an informal session yesterday in the council chambers.

"It's not bull," Kelly shot back, noting that by violating the state's maintenance-of-effort law by dipping below the previous year's overall budget, the council has ensured a $500,000 loss in state money to the colleges every year for years to come.

Kelly, a former state senator, was appointed to head the embattled board of the state's largest community college system after the firing in January of Chancellor Daniel J. LaVista. The board has been criticized as a network of political appointees controlled by its patrons.

A bill before the General Assembly proposes enlarging the board, and Kelly says he is bringing in new experts and will have an orientation program for board members.

Behind the exchange yesterday is the council's frustration at being blamed by college employees and students for burned-out light bulbs, broken sidewalks and other problems at Catonsville, Essex and Dundalk community colleges.

The county provides roughly one-third of the community college system's $78 million annual budget, with the rest coming from the state and from student tuition.

Council members said they feel that even as they are asked for more money, they see basic needs, such as building maintenance, neglected.

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said he was told the council cuts were to blame for maintenance and other problems during a recent tour of Essex Community College, in his district.

Members of the council insist they did not cut funds for classroom services or maintenance, and Bartenfelder said a college board member told him privately last spring that the reduction wouldn't be missed anyway.

Council members knew they were cutting below the maintenance-of-effort level -- which requires that local funding not decrease for schools to qualify for state increases -- but they felt that the money would not be missed because it was not earmarked for specific uses.

Kelly and McAnnich said they are frustrated at losing money that could have helped with badly needed campus maintenance, computer systems and other needs.

"That $500,000 could have been used for maintenance," McAnnich said, adding that he identified $1 million worth of things that needed fixing at Dundalk two years ago when he worked there.

But Dundalk Democrat Louis L. DePazzo said he is angry that Dundalk's buildings have been neglected by administrators who he feels have shifted money to their pet projects.

Despite the rough words yesterday, council members and Kelly promised cooperation this year and said they respect each other's functions.

"They did what they had to do," Kelly said afterward, as DePazzo, Kamenetz and others offered expressions of support and confidence in him for the job he has volunteered to do.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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